The Beaufort-area home-construction market could be headed for an upswing, as developers have announced plans or filed applications for 850 or more new residences in the coming years.
And Realtors and business leaders believe buyers will be ready to snatch them up.
The homes on the drawing board in northern Beaufort County number about 700 in the city of Beaufort and 150 more in the town of Port Royal, according to developers and the municipalities.
"I think developers now have confidence that the market is returning and there are gaps that can be filled," Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
Last week, Scott Trotter announced plans to develop a 330-residence community consisting mostly of single-family homes and constructed around a working farm on Cane Island.
Two weeks ago, 303 Associates and Steve Tully announced a partnership to build 80 to 100 single-family homes at Whitehall on Lady's Island, near the foot of the Woods Memorial Bridge.
Also, 303 Associates plans an 18-unit townhouse complex in downtown Beaufort and 142 apartments by Beaufort Town Center, along Boundary Street.
In Port Royal, the town has received plans for 145 homes in a development called Carolina Lakes off Castle Rock Road.
Applications also have been filed with the city of Beaufort for two affordable-housing apartment complexes, each with 56 units -- one behind the Bi-Lo grocery store in Beaufort and the other behind the Publix supermarket on Lady's Island.
Applications for the first, Ashley Pointe Apartments, were filed in the spring. The second, Sea Pointe Apartments, will go before the Design Review Board at its meeting Thursday. The developers have been awarded federal tax credits of $747,000 and $649,000, respectively, as part of a program to finance rental housing for low-income families, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Beaufort Housing Authority executive director Angela Childers said she has almost 900 people on waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 assistance, so the need for affordable housing is "extreme."
New housing -- preferably phased in gradually so as to not exceed demand -- is needed in Beaufort, according to Edward Dukes, secretary for the Beaufort County Association of Realtors.
"We lose a lot of people to Charleston, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, places like that, because we don't have a lot of turnkey" homes, said Dukes, who also is a Realtor. " ... The inventory of homes that was so heavy for a long time has been going down."
Robb Wells, tourism division director at the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said statistics indicate a need for new construction.
Twice, the chamber has enlisted Pat Mason -- co-founder of the Center For Carolina Living, which tracks and studies data related to people moving to North Carolina and South Carolina -- to speak before the Realtors association.
According to Mason's presentation, 4 billion to 4.4 million"baby boomers" will come of age -- or turn 60 -- every single year for the next decade. Not only is South Carolina a top retirement hot spot, but Beaufort and Greenville are tied for third in a list of most-preferred destinations in the Carolinas, according to a center survey.
Nonetheless, a ZIP code audit found Bluffton is the third-most likely place for people to end up; Beaufort ranks only 23rd.
Wells and Dukes said that's largely because Beaufort hasn't enjoyed a construction boom as Bluffton has in recent years.
Keyserling is optimistic that the plans and announcements are a turning point for a city that has been watching population dip. Whereas Bluffton's population has exploded -- increasing 883 percent between 2000 and 2010 -- Beaufort's dropped 5 percent, from 12,950 to 12,361, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures.
"It's my impression, from what I see, that (developers) are doing more than dreaming if they're cutting down trees and doing surveys," Keyserling said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.
- The Center for Carolina Living In-Migration Industry Briefing to the Beaufort County Association of Realtors
- U.S. Census: Beaufort County grew by 34 percent over last decade, March 23, 2011
- Developers team up to develop vacant Whitehall Plantation, Oct. 31, 2014
- Developer eyes 330 homes centered around farm for Cane Island, Nov. 16, 2014